This post discusses an example of New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) environmental hypocrisy. I describe an instance where infrastructure support projects will have a far greater environmental impact than similar but smaller impacts that were grounds for permit denials for fossil fuel infrastructure applications. This example discusses underwater cables and pipelines.
I have written extensively on implementation of the CLCPA because I believe the solutions proposed will adversely affect reliability and affordability, will have worse impacts on the environment than the purported effects of climate change, and cannot measurably affect global warming when implemented. The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.
New York Regulatory Decision for a Pipeline
On May 15, 2020 the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced the denial of the Water Quality Certification (WQC) the proposed North Easy Supply Enhancement (NESE) Project.
This project included a 26-inch diameter pipeline proposed by Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company LLC (Transco) that would transport natural gas from Pennsylvania through New Jersey, traveling underwater in the Raritan Bay and Lower New York Bay to approximately three miles offshore of the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens Borough. Approximately 23.5 miles of underwater pipeline will be installed, of which approximately 17.4 miles would be in New York State waters.
The DEC denial letter states that the application was denied, in part, because of:
Transco’s inability to demonstrate the Project’s compliance with all applicable water quality standards. To obtain a WQC from the Department, an applicant must, among other requirements, demonstrate compliance with State water quality standards. See 6 NYCRR § 608.9. Transco has not demonstrated that construction and operation of the Project would comply with applicable water quality standards. Because the Department lacks reasonable assurances that the Project would comply with applicable water quality standards, particularly without the use of a default 500-foot mixing zone for mercury and copper, the Department hereby denies the 2019 WQC Application.
The letter goes on to say:
Transco’s projections in the 2019 WQC Application are based on the presumed use of a default 500-foot mixing zone. But as the Department noted in its 2019 Denial, the Department maintains discretion to assign a smaller mixing zone or no mixing zone, based on its assessment of relevant factors including the nature of sediment contamination, the proximity of sensitive habitats, and other qualitative assessments. The Department has considered the Project in light of these criteria and has determined that the default 500-foot mixing zone is not appropriate at all locations proposed to be crossed by the Project. Without the use of a default mixing zone at all locations, the Project would not comply with all applicable water quality standards, and therefore, the Department is denying the 2019 WQC Application.
The DEC description of the permit denial states that:
Based on NYSDEC’s review of the May 17, 2019 WQC application for the NESE Project, including all supplemental materials, review of the over 16,000 public comments received, and review of the FEIS and other record materials associated with the NESE Project, NYSDEC has determined that the construction of the Project would likely have significant water quality impacts in New York State. This includes significant water quality impacts from the resuspension of sediments and other contaminants, including mercury and copper, particularly without the use of the discretionary default mixing zone in certain areas. The Project would cause impacts to habitats due to the disturbance of shellfish beds and other benthic resources. The water quality impacts would be especially problematic within the productive hard clam area located between milepost (MP) 14.2 to MP 19.7.
CLCPA Offshore Wind
At the October 14, 2021 CLCPA Climate Action Council meeting Carl Mas from the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA) presented results from the integration analysis. At this time, he explained that an estimated 16,000 to 19,000 MW of offshore wind development will be required to meet the CLCPA targets. One of the first offshore wind projects recently announced that they are pushing back the completion date for their 816 MW project to the end of 2026. According to the article, “While Empire Wind does not plan to have its project generate power for the grid by the on meeting the 2025 deadline, the developer said it is prepared to make ‘substantial investments’ by that date in order to ease potential concerns on part of New York Independent System Operator. Among the investments, Empire Wind will build a substation at Gowanus, lay 40 nautical miles of submarine and underground interconnection cable circuits, and install an offshore collector substation in the New York Bight project site.”
The NESE project proposed a 26-inch diameter pipeline traveling underwater in the Raritan Bay and Lower New York Bay to approximately three miles offshore of the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens Borough. Approximately 23.5 miles of underwater pipeline was planned and it was all outside of the inner New York Harbor. The Empire wind project includes a 40 nautical mile underground cable from somewhere out in the New York Bight that will cross the location of the proposed NESE pipeline as it runs through the inner New York Harbor to Gowanus in Brooklyn. Assuming that all the offshore wind projects will be about the same size indicates that at least 20 offshore wind projects with comparable underground cables will be required.
The New York Power Grid study identifies the transmission upgrades necessary to support the CLCPA targets. It concludes that interconnecting 5,000 to 6,000 MW of offshore wind into New York City electric Zone J “should be feasible with sufficient planning and coordination to efficiently use scarce cable routing corridors through the New York Harbor and limited space at the points of interconnection substations. In addition to the planned cables, it would require siting four 1,300 MW cables and securing landing points in Zone J.” Note, however, that this study analyzed the resources needed for 9,000 MW of offshore wind, far less than 16,000 to 19,000 MW the integration analysis indicates is necessary.
Based on this project comparison it appears to me that four transmission cables each 40 nautical miles long are needed just for 6,000 MW of offshore wind power into the New York City points of interconnection substations. That is over seven times as much seafloor disturbance as the NESE pipeline that was rejected because of water quality concerns. All four cables will have to cross the proposed location of the pipeline but rather than staying outside of New York Harbor they will all be located within the harbor. The remainder of the offshore wind energy will land on Long Island but they will all have similar impacts.
Any rational comparison of the scope and impact of the underwater cables needed for the proposed offshore wind developments necessary to meet the CLCPA targets and the NESE pipeline must conclude that the offshore wind cable water quality impacts will far exceed those of the pipeline. Obviously, the pipeline denial was a blatant politically motivated action to cater to the environmental activist community who demand the end of fossil fuel infrastructure without having any appreciation of importance of reliable energy. The Cuomo administration made the calculated decision to appease this voting bloc rather than make an unpopular decision to guarantee reliable energy. Of course, the politicians in charge now will deny any responsibility if the gas pipeline supply issues do cause energy reliability problems.
I don’t think New York politicians have figured out that it is impossible to always appease environmental activists. For example, the NESE pipeline explicitly noted that “The water quality impacts would be especially problematic within the productive hard clam area located between milepost (MP) 14.2 to MP 19.7.” I cannot imagine that everyone who raised that issue would give the offshore wind cables a pass to site the underground cables in the same locations. However, given the expedited review process of renewable energy projects under the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act those folks may not be aware of the permitting application in time to comment. Furthermore, the organizations that motivated their members to comment on the pipeline have such a focus against fossil fuels that I believe that they would willingly not notify their members of the underground cable water quality impacts because it is for a “good” cause.